Using the internet to adapt distribution channels is not limited to fresh produce or cosmetics; some Chinese sellers are capitalizing on the anonymity of the internet to distribute nitrous oxide.
Chinese media reported Monday that nitrous oxide dealers look to connect with buyers via posts on Tieba, Baidu’s bulletin board system (BBS) where users post questions or topics for online discussion, by leaving their WeChat IDs. In an investigation by one media outlet, a seller going by “CP” sold 300 laughing gas canisters for RMB 630 (around $93) on his WeChat stores. As of May 5, 77 orders of Kayser brand cream chargers had been sold, according to the report.
In a Weibo announcement released later in the day, Baidu said it cleared out related posts. The search engine giant added that it is currently gathering information to assist the police. A Baidu spokeswoman told TechNode that the company is still investigating the situation and were not yet releasing details to the public. WeChat owner Tencent did not respond to requests for comment.
Recreational use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is a relatively unknown in China. In May 2017, a netizen named Teng Teng posted an account of nitrous oxide use on Zhihu, a Quora-like question-and-answer platform, detailing how it is consumed and its potential effects on the body. The post also mentioned that it was sold on Alibaba’s online marketplace Taobao as an agent to whip cream, a common commercial use.
Alibaba later announced it had forbidden the nitrous oxide sales on the platform by targeting relevant keywords. However, since buying and selling nitrous oxide is a legal grey area in China, purchasing it for use in certain industries, both online and offline, was technically legal, said the company.
Chinese cyberspace watchdog are intensifying the fight against illegal activities online, shuttering over 33,600 apps and 2.3 million websites in a recent government move in four months beginning in December. Baidu said it had removed 120 million pieces of information as well as 500,000 accounts which were deemed “harmful” from Tieba in 2018, which was largely seen as a response to the government’s sweeping efforts to clean up the country’s cyberspace. In January, the company said it removed 50 billion pieces of harmful information in 2018 as a whole, an 11% increase over the year prior.